The Rajah’s Sapphire - M.P. Shiel - ebook

The Rajah’s Sapphire ebook

M. P. Shiel

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The M. P. Shiel’s second book and first novel. „The Rajah’s Sapphire” is a story of the final chapter in the history of a famous gem that haunts all who chance to own it. M. P. Shiel wrote twenty-five novels and dozens of short stories, most of them romantic mysteries or fast-paced adventures, several dealing with world conquest. Others are distinctly supernatural or border on science fiction. Most are interspersed with discourses on his philosophy and sociology of the Overman. And most, regardless of genre, were written in Shiel’s patented poetic prose.

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER I

The Markgraf Stefan von Reutlingen, that rising son of the corps diplomatique, was not in the best of spirits. He felt as if he lacked part of himself, like an animal whose tail has been decapitated; for, while his handsome, knit body was in close attendance on the Kaiser at the Zeughaus, in Berlin, on the particular Sunday afternoon in question, the most important organ of that same handsome body was away truant in a certain western English county. Now, a frame without a heart is like an egg without salt; and thus it was that the Kaiser frowned more than once during the day to find his brilliant protege insipid to his taste, wearing an absent look, and giving spiritless answers to the spirited questions of his volcanic sovereign.

It was the 27th of January, in this year of grace 1895, and so, of course, the birthday of Wilhelm. Stefan’s first task for the day had been to attend in the train of his young master at the Palast-kapelle to hear divine service. The soldier-emperor is nothing if not devout, and the days wound up with wine-libations to Mars are usually begun by him with the payment of his respects to the Nazarene carpenter. Stefan, too, like most sons of noble, old German races, had a tincture of a certain haughty piety in his composition. He rose early, full of the great day and all its details, sighed the name of a certain Ada Macdonald, called down with genuine feeling a blessing on the turbulent head of his young master, and, having ensconced his feet in the fur of a pair of wrought slippers and his back in the fur of a dressing-gown of scarlet velvet, sat down to the white napery and the silver service of a dainty private breakfast.

Fritz, the trusty, his right-hand man, the only living being who could satisfactorily wax the sweeping, diplomatic semi-circles of the young Markgraf’s radiant moustache, placed gingerly by his right hand the privileged letters of the morning, and it was the very first of these which the Markgraf opened that sealed the fate of his good spirits for the rest of that day. Stefan had a trick of tapping lightly with his knuckles on the nearest convenient surface in moments of high impatience, and for a full quarter of an hour after reading this letter he gazed vaguely before him, and the table sounded forth a gentle, mechanical tattoo under his tapping hand. The note was short, and ran:

“Dearest,–All is fixed. The ball will be, after all, on the 6th. and you are going to be there. Do not tell me about diplomacy, do not tell me about your too absurd, little Kaiser! If trifles such as these keep you from me at a time when I specially require, and demand, your presence–what am I to think? No, no, you must come. It will be no ball to your Ada if you are not there; I think you appreciate the compliment. And there is danger in your absence, mon ami, at a function such as that. Can you not conceive how poor little me will be nibbled at, fished for, hunted like a stag by the hunters? And how can I save myself? Not mine the fault if the rats prefer Gorgonzola to Cheshire. I did not make the golden vermilion flashings which lure the fishers to linger above my waters. If my hoofs are slender, and the coating of my haunches sleek, I am no more responsible for that than I am for the fact that the hunters persist in preferring sleek and slender quarry. Come, come, and rescue me. And here is some news for you which should spur you: I have had another, my dear; yes, yet another. Think of it! Is this the twenty-ninth or the thirtieth? I forget. I have them all noted down in my diary with the records of my new gowns. And only guess from whom this last comes? Oh, it fills the cup of your Ada’s bitterness to the brim! From whom but from the ‘High-flyer.’ Know you in the Fatherland the fame and prowess of that knight? The ‘High-flyer,’ my dear. He went down upon one of his little nervous knees and implored me to be his! Art jealous? Don’t! Still, I assure you, he did it very prettily, and I was far from really degoute. The man has a certain charm, though he is undoubtedly madder than any March hare that ever scampered over a hill. He called me the Virgin Mary: said that then, for the first time in his life, he bent the knee before the unsullied soul of a virgin. And when I recommended him to rise from his too-absurd position he seemed to forget all about the matter at once, and coolly commenced to talk of–something else. Not one single word of it all did that man really mean! He is simply the creature of sheer, headlong, momentary impulse, and rather a ruffian into the bargain. And yet I like him–and, oh, he is so rich! He is to be at the ball, if he can remember so small a matter for so long a time as a week. “I am now staying at Lord Darley’s, in Somersetshire; but shall be in London with the St. John-Heygates in two days: we return west together for the ball. I shall meet you in London without fail, remember. “Yours, yours! “Ada.” “P.S.–I have, or had, something–a favor–to ask you. Dare I? But no, I am superstitious–and I love you! No, no. And yet I dearly wish it, too.”

The Markgraf Stefan’s immediate reply to this letter was the tattoo with his knuckles on the table. He frowned, he ran his fingers through his hair, he made slender as his toothpick the ends of his moustache. “And–who–the devil.” he slowly asked himself, “is the High-flyer?” The one thing he disliked in that perfection, his beloved, was a certain too high respect he had noticed in her for wealth–wealth for wealth’s sake. Ada Macdonald “loved” him, and he was not rich: she did not love the High-flyer, but she loved money, and the High-flyer had what she loved. Small things trouble the lover, and Stefan was an intense member of that sect. “Donner and Blitz!”–he was still old-fashioned Teuton enough to swear by the elements in his hour of oaths–“who–the devil–is the High-flyer?” And with this second repetition of the question, a certain reputation flashed across his memory. “Ralloner, perhaps?” Yes, surely, that must be the man who had received this nickname in England; Ralloner, the incarnate whirlwind, that genius of the hurricane, the typhoon of flesh. The rumor of him had filled Europe, the dollar-compeller, the madcap, the dispenser of palaces, the keeper of zenanas whose inmates were countesses and prima donnas. And this ghoul had been on a knee before his betrothed–a dangerous man, not to be baulked in his impulses! Stefan shivered; he pushed the plate from him. And when Ada had refused him, the High-flyer seemed to forget all about the matter at once. How patent a pretence! Such a man must have meant all he said. Why did he think of going to the ball, where she was to be the brightest, most particular star of all? Fashionable functions of that kind were surely not the kind of places to which a wild spirit like Ralloner devoted his time. The ruse was patent. And to think that he, the Markgraf von Reutlingen, was tied here to Berlin, tied for a month at least, by the exigencies of diplomacy, to the heels of the Kaiser, without hope or respite! He cursed fate, and the Chancellor, and the great lady whose ball was to out-dazzle Solomon and the gems of Golconda; and when, by 11 o’clock, he sat on the blue velvet-cushioned pew immediately behind his Imperial Majesty in the Palast-kapelle, out of the same mouth proceeded blessings and verdaments.

“To-night–at 10–in my private room, behind the Ballzimmer,” said the Chancellor in his ear in low, mysterious tones, as the procession of the Court was passing out of the chapel.

He turned, in wonder, to question, but the Minister had already retired a few steps, and was lending ear to some close words of the Emperor.

After a somewhat hurried lunch, Wilhelm, followed by his staff-officers, the chief of the Civil Cabinet, the Chancellor, and the principal Ministers, drove to the Zeughaus to attend the ceremony of giving the password. Berlin was en fete. Huzzas and flags made a double hedge about him as he sailed through the palisade of the jubilant people. As he passed the University a band sent forth from its deep throat the patriotic song, “Heil dir in Siegeskranz.” Stefan, with his back to the horses, in company with some of his superiors in diplomacy, began to give rein to generous enthusiasms, until the sudden curb-bit of the thought of “the High-flyer” ripped his mouth, and instantly he was in the glums again. A salvo of cannon greeted the Emperor at the Zeughaus. The party drew up in the great quadrangle, lined with its glittering array of warriors under arms; then followed the salute and manoeuvrings under the proud eye of the modern Alexander of the Germans; and then, for the first time, an army corps commander stood forth and read, as with the mouth of the trumpet, the famous manifesto of the “Birthday.” After referring to the military victories, which were crowned by the foundation of the German Empire, and thanking the army, the manifesto ordered that for a year the banners and standards which received distinction from the late Emperor William during the war should, on public occasions, be adorned with oak leaves. The guns and batteries engaged in the Franco-German War were to be decorated in the same way. Almost immediately on the reading of this document, the Imperial cortege moved off to return to the Palace. A mighty cheer burst as from one throat from the quadrangle of the Zeughaus.

It was now late. The scene in the streets was one of medley, luridness, and grandeur. Only seat strutting young Crudity on an old throne; clap a crown upon its head; stick a sceptre into its hand; fill its blatant mouth with high-sounding words about God and kingship; and now call down the mantle of night on a great city, illuminated; jumble the hot populace, empty of comfort and thought, in the streets, and bid them howl and roar the agony of their vacuum in wild huzzas; over all the noise let bands brazen out their jubilees and the tongues of a hundred bells talk; and you have a measure of the scene in Berlin on the evening of Sunday, the 27th of January.

After the highly ceremonial State dinner in the Palace, at which sat the Royal guests of Saxony and Wurtemburg, our own Duke of Coburg, and the Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the Imperial party adjourned to the brilliant performance at the Royal Opera. Berlin through all its width was a city of feasts. Private houses were decorated. Dinners ministerial, dinners official, club, military, were popping loud with corks; and tongues, venting to heaven his Majesty’s health, drunk three times three according to time-honored custom. Wilhelm sat in his box at the opera, the high flush and the pride of life on his brow. He was beating time with his forefinger to an overture–for little Willie is a very great musician, and woe to those who deny it! As he sat thus, Prince Hohenlohe entered the box, and instantly the Kaiser’s face changed to gravity, and the two leant their heads together in earnest talk. Both glanced simultaneously at Stefan sitting in the stalls near by, and Stefan, looking up, was certain of this singular glance, and with beating, heart wondered what it could mean. He had not passed the age at which one blushes at an Emperor’s notice, and he blushed. Till near 10 his head was in a whirl, and then he slipped from the theatre, crossed two corridors, traversed the Ballzimmer, and tapped at a tapestry-shrouded door. Hohenlohe had anticipated him there. A voice called, “Come in.”

He found himself separated from the Prince by a table littered with documents, under a rather vague red light which swung from a vaulted roof. He made his lowest official bow, his high-bred face telling no secrets of the beating of his heart.

Prince Hohenlohe was buried deep in the perusal of official papers. Presently he looked up, and piercing the young man with his eye said–

“Ah! von Reutlingen, so that is you. Allow me to congratulate you. By the way, how old are you?”

“Twenty-five,” gasped Stefan.

“Only twenty-five. Hum!”

There was an awkward silence. Stefan resented it.

“I take it, of course,” resumed the Prince, “that you are tolerably well acquainted with the minutiae of the Chino-Japanese affair so far?”

“That is so, your Highness.”

“And you know the general tenor of the secret proposals made by England to the Powers on that subject some little time since?”

“Certainly, your Highness.”

“It was not at the time deemed prudent that Germany should show any undue desire to interfere between the contending parties. But now the Emperor agrees with me in thinking that the time has come–”

“Really!”

“Listen. You owe it to your known tact and knowledge of affairs that you have been selected to undertake a task of the very gravest responsibility. On your acts and words, and even thoughts, will depend tremendous issues. And I feel certain you will enter on this mission with a due sense of its supreme importance.”

Stefan bowed.

“By the way,” resumed the Prince, “are you already personally acquainted with the Chinese Ambassador in London?”

“Certainly, your Highness.”

“And, of course, with Lords Rosebery and Spencer?”

“Certainly, your Highness.”

“The siege of Wei-hia-wei, as you know, is now proceeding. The idea is that you should reach the seat of action before it falls. That will mean quick work. Yon are, of course, aware of that. By the way, I forget for the moment, how many guns has the Tien Shen?”

“Six, your Highness.”

“And the Chen-Yuen?”

“Eight.”

“Well, well. You proceed straight to London to arrange preliminaries with the English Government and the Chinese ambassador. Your utmost time in London will be ten days. You will reach England by the Calais-Dover route–I have my own reasons for specifying this route; these you will learn from this packet. All these three packets I commend to your earnest perusal; in them you will find your whole conduct and policy clearly outlined. I dare say you will wish to start early on the morrow, and as you have had a fatiguing day I will now bid you my adieux and convey at the same time an expression of the Kaiser’s approval, confidence, and thanks.”

Stefan, with overflowing bosom, took the Prince’s hand and the documents, bowed, and retired backward like a crab, only with rather more grace and dignity. He walked home on air, thinking in his swimming brain two things. The first, that he was a made man and diplomat; the second, that if Ada Macdonald did not know before with what a whirlwind swing a happy man can waltz, she would know it for very certain on the great night of the Countess of Yorrick’s ball, till she begged for breath and mercy.

As he entered the door of his Residenz, his man Fritz put a telegram into his hand. He knew not why, but for a second he hesitated to open it. A presentiment, a fear seized him, that the gods were jealous, as in their wont, of his perfect happiness. Then he tore it open. It ran:

“Before coming over you must go to Friedrich, the pawnbroker, at 13 Canalstrasse, Bremen, and get for me the Rajah’s Sapphire. Don’t let any absurd superstition about the luck of the stone prevent you. I must have it for the ball.–Ada.”

He paled under the hall lamp, and slowly drew once more from his pocket Ada’s letter of that morning. Looking at the postscript, he read:

“P.S.–I have, or had, something–a favor–to ask you. Dare I? But, no; I am superstitious, and I love you! No, no! And yet I dearly wish it, too!”

“So, this,” he groaned, “was the favor. That cursed stone! This–this–this–was the favor!”

He tottered limp to his bed.

CHAPTER II

To go to Bremen. Not to go to Bremen? That was the thought which racked him all the night. He had special instructions to proceed at once to Calais; the fate of empires, the lives perhaps of millions, depended on his prompt, his implicit obedience; and, he added to himself, his own advancement, honor; and then he immediately fell to cursing himself for thinking of his own small interests at all when so much else was at stake. To go to Bremen? It could not be. He decided that definitely Bremen meant the North-German Lloyd, and so, a voyage not merely of a few hours to the opposite coast of England, as that from Calais to Dover, but a voyage down the length of the North Sea, down half the length of the English Channel–to Southampton! Then from Southampton the railway journey to London–delay, delay, every where. Lying on the left shoulder he decided sharply and angrily against Bremen. He turned on the right, and the right brought him thoughts of Ada Macdonald; she rose before him, tall, flashing scorn at him from her black diamond eyes, imperious as Queen Boadicea. He knew what fires slept in Ada; and he knew what fires slept in Wilhelm and Hohenlohe, but when it came to a question of real downright fire, he said to himself with a shiver that he would rather a thousand times over be scorched by the fires of Wilhelm than the fires of Ada Macdonald. How could he refuse her–how could he dare? She might not understand his excuses about the exigencies of diplomatic business; she would say that his motive for not doing her bidding was his dread of travelling in company with that vile stone which had proved so fatal to how many others! She would call him a coward–him! “I must go!” he cried. “I must go, come what will!” This was the decision of right shoulder. He turned again on his left. As a door on its hinges, so he turned on his bed; and in ten minutes left shoulder had brought him to the conclusion that on no possible consideration could he venture, could he dare, could he dream of, going to Bremen. The morning was near, and he fell into a nightmare sleep.

By ten o’clock he was in a private compartment of a train. Fritz sat before him, wondering at his master’s pallor. The train steamed away. It was bound for–Bremen. Stefan spent the hours of the morning in thinking over the derails of the awful history of the stone which he was about to take into his possession. It was a great sapphire, massive as a hen’s egg, pure as the bubbling water of a mountain brook, the very playhouse and home of light. The tradition was that since the Indian Prince, Kashmiri Khan, had murdered his father in the sixth century before Christ for the possession of the wondrous jewel it had never been the property of anyone, never even been, in the temporary custody of anyone, without bringing on them disaster of some kind, mischief in some shape; and, as a matter of historical fact, there can be no doubt that Kashmiri Khan himself, immediately after committing the murder, was devoured by a lion as he fled through the jungle: and, it is added, by the somewhat fantastic Indian history books, that the lion consumed the entire body of the man except only the hand in which the jewel was grasped, which hand was found lying on the ground by the servants of the late king two days after. It was taken back to the Palace, and, within three months, the town was invaded, the Palace burned, and the stone carried away to Northern Hindoostan by a band of roving disciples of Zoroaster. The Rajah’s sapphire, daring the course of many centuries, passed through a multitude of hands, and always with the same history; the greedy eye blazed over it; the frenzied brain schemed and plotted to possess it; then came the chuckle of victory; the secret hugging of it, as of the water of life, to the ardent bosom; then, in a day–in an hour–a doubt, a sideward glance of distrust; then disaster, swift, sure, recurrent; then, ah then, the burning lust to be rid of it, the agonised cry–at any cost–at the price of life–to pluck this viper’s tooth from the gnawed breast. The same history everywhere.

At the beginning of this century Sir James Macdonald, travelling through Central Hindoostan, came to a State, isolated from the world, in the centre of vast mountains. Here he was the guest of a great Indian potentate, into whose hand the stone had lately passed; the monarch, not at first knowing the history of the jewel, had purchased it at a fabulous price. A week later he chanced to call a meeting of his dewan (council), over which his heir was to preside. At the appointed moment the young man entered the chamber where were congregated the Ministers of State, the jewel glittering, like a constellation of radiance on his forehead. He entered the hall, ascended the steps of the throne, and–dropped dead. Soon after this the old Rajah heard the history of the stone, and the same day received the visit of Sir James Macdonald. Sir James, a man of haughty disposition, and, little careful of observing the customs and prejudices of his host, inflicted, in the course of a day or two, some deadly insult on the Rajah, which, however, the monarch appeared to make light of, and, on receiving an apology, promised to forget. On the third day Sir James departed, but he had not travelled far into the forest when he was overtaken by a hot messenger on horseback, who presented him with the transcendent gem as a token from the Rajah of goodwill and perfect reconciliation. Sir James, in a transport of gratitude, sent back the thing he prized most on earth–a small silver brooch containing a lock of his dead wife’s hair. He reached England in perfect safety–to find his credit gone, his character besmirched, and an only brother dead. It was thus that after nearly a century the sapphire had come to be the property of Ada Macdonald.

During that century it had passed from the hand of one banker to another, one pawn broker to another. The immense value of the stone had, of itself, conferred a distinction on the Macdonald family; they were called “the Macdonalds of the Sapphire,” and hence they had never had the courage to part altogether with it. But the stone had a strange, strong genius for inspiring panic, and hence it was hardly ever to be found in the actual possession of a Macdonald, for by this time its history had come to be known. Even the pawnbrokers had acquired a strange trick of growing tired of its company; hence its career had been a rather migratory one; and hence, too, it was that on this 28th January an express was sweeping the Markgraf Stefan in the direction of No. 13 Canalstrasse, Bremen.

In the evening of the same day he was closeted in a small dark room in a dirty back street of dingy Bremen, with Melchizedek Friedrich, an old, bent German Hebrew, with fish-hook nose, and torrent white beard. Stefan produced documentary evidence of his identity and position, and his connection with the owner of the stone. He showed the telegram.

Friedrich sat bent, muttering gutteral Hebrew and Yiddish to his knowing beard. Presently he looked up, shot a keen cunning ray from his eyes into Stefan, and said–

“And so you come for the sapphire, sir?”

“Yes.”

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.